U.N. Warns of Anti-Muslim Violence in Central African Republic

Geneva — Thousands of Muslims in the Central African Republic remain in danger of being slaughtered despite the presence of international peacekeepers, Navi Pillay, the United Nations human rights chief, warned on Thursday, criticizing the international community for a slow and inadequate response to the country’s humanitarian catastrophe.

Massacres that killed thousands in December and January have halted for the time being, but “inter-communal hatred remains at a terrifying level as evidenced by the extraordinarily vicious nature of the killings,” Ms. Pillay said in a statement delivered in the capital, Bangui, at the end of a two-day visit. “This has become a country where people are not just killed, they are tortured, mutilated, burned and dismembered.”

Killings continue on a daily basis, rapes and other forms of sexual violence are rising and an estimated 15,000 Muslims trapped in enclaves in Bangui and other locations in the west and north of the country are in danger, Ms. Pillay said.

Militias known as anti-balaka are responsible for most of the killings and are evolving into criminal gangs that not only hunt down Muslims but also prey on Christians and other non-Muslims, she said, noting that the police and other government institutions were in a state of collapse.

People carrying blood-smeared machetes and the body parts of victims are allowed to go free, she added, because there is nowhere to detain them and no functioning judicial system to prosecute them.

To try to stabilize the country, France, the former colonial power, has provided 1,600 troops, soon to be increased to 2,000, which back up some 6,000 African troops. The European Union is also preparing to send 1,000 soldiers. But United Nations officials say that those numbers are dwarfed by the scale of the crisis and the size of the country, which is bigger than France.

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has appealed to governments for 10,000 additional troops and 2,000 police officers, but even if his plea were to be fulfilled, it would take six months for them to deploy.

International aid agencies, meanwhile, have received only 20 percent of the more than $550 million they seek to fund relief operations this year, Ms. Pillay said, leaving them “deplorably underfunded” and lacking in essentials, like vehicles to get around the country.

Ms. Pillay said she was “deeply concerned” by the slow response of the international community, which appeared to have forgotten the lessons of disasters in Rwanda, the Balkans and East Timor. “How many more children have to be decapitated, how many more women and girls will be raped, how many more acts of cannibalism must there be, before we really sit up and pay attention?” she asked.

Failing to provide vital aid could lead to decades of instability and the creation of a new and fertile breeding ground for religious extremism” in the Central African Republic and in the wider region, Ms. Pillay said.